Macron calls for multi-speed Europe

Paris (AFP) –


French President Emmanuel Macron called for a multi-speed Europe on Tuesday, arguing that a core of "avant-garde" countries should lead the way in deepening EU integration.

Macron, 39, put the crisis-hit European Union at the heart of his centrist election campaign, promising to go further in building the bloc.

"We should imagine a Europe of several formats: going further with those who want to advance, while not being held back by states which want... to progress slower or not as far," he said in his first major foreign policy speech on Tuesday.

Speaking in front of 200 ambassadors in Paris, he reiterated comments made on the campaign trail by arguing that Europe "needed to leave behind the logic" that it advanced all together or not at all.

"We have always progressed with an avant-garde group of the willing that was followed by the others," he said.

Part of his plans include creating a budget for the 19-member eurozone which will be overseen by a finance minister and new parliament -- a major institutional change.

He won tentative backing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday who is running for re-election in parliamentary elections due on September 24.

"I have made clear that I have nothing against the idea of a European finance minister per se. We just need to determine what this finance minister could do," she told reporters.

She also said she supported the idea of a budget for the eurozone to transfer money to weaker members of the zone who might need support while carrying out difficult economic reforms.

"Not hundreds of billions of euros, but just small amounts at first with which we could support countries that introduce reforms," she said.

In his speech to the ambassadors, Macron also stressed that Britain's decision to leave the EU should not impede the bloc's plans to advance.

"Brexit must not consume all of our energy," he said, adding that the Brexit referendum in June 2016 had shown that "when Europe is only a market, it is rejected."